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Written by Student Rights on 3 February 2014 at 3pm

A response to SOAS Muslim-Christian Dialogue Society

Yesterday Student Rights received an open letter from  SOAS Muslim-Christian Dialogue attacking our work on gender segregation. Read our response below.

Many thanks for your open letter regarding Student Rights’ work on the issue of on-campus gender segregation.

We strongly reject your claim that by highlighting gender segregation we are “vilifying” student Islamic societies.

No students should be immune from scrutiny, and the involvement of campaigners from across the political spectrum including One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters, Left Foot Forward, the National Secular Society, and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain suggests that we are not the only ones concerned about this issue.  

Like yourselves we support the right of individual students to act according to their religious convictions, and have repeatedly stated that if these individual students wish to choose to sit separately from the opposite gender during events then that should be of no concern.  

However, students do not have the right to impose their religious views on others, and in accommodating areas of segregated seating student societies are doing just this.

This view is supported by the EHRC, which has declared that “in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the commission's view, permissible to segregate by gender".

In supporting the right of SOAS Islamic Society to impose segregated areas in this way you are therefore in opposition to the EHRC and are potentially also supporting a breach of SOAS’s Equality and Diversity Policy, as well as failing to support the many Muslim women who have joined the campaign against this practice.

It is also disappointing that you have chosen to smear us by claiming that our opposition to this issue is motivated by Islamophobic sentiments, and that this is shown by suggestions that segregated seating is indicative of political extremism.

This is simply not a position that we hold as an organisation, something that we have repeatedly stated since the publication of our original report on this issue in May 2013.

This campaign drew together a broad church of students, equality groups, and human rights activists from across the political spectrum.

Presenting it as an attack on Muslims overlooks this, and risks furthering claims of extreme groups like the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA) that criticism of gender segregation amounts to “anti-Muslim propaganda”.

I hope this addresses your concerns, and I would be more than happy to meet with you and members of your society to address further any concerns that you have about our work in person.